The pro-government majority in Armenia’s parliament thwarted on Thursday opposition lawmakers’ attempts to force an emergency session on the continuing standoff between security forces and gunmen occupying a police station.
Only 19 members of the 131-seat National Assembly, virtually all of them opposition deputies, formally demanded such a debate.
The parliament would have had to convene if at least 44 deputies signed a corresponding petition circulated by Nikol Pashinian, the leader of the opposition Civil Contract party.
Pashinian demanded the session on Wednesday amid continuing protests staged by supporters of the gunmen. The latter seized the police station in Yerevan on July 17 to demand the release of Zhirayr Sefilian, the arrested leader of their Founding Parliament radical opposition movement, and regime change.
Explaining his initiative, Pashinian dismissed arguments that the parliament is now in recess. “Let them interrupt their holidays and get back to work,” he said of his pro-government colleagues.
“Political forces must now step in,” said another opposition lawmaker, Stepan Markarian. “An intervention by the National Assembly is one of the best ways of doing that.”
Markarian is affiliated with former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian’s Consolidation party. Other lawmakers backing Pashinian’s initiative represent the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), Zharangutyun and Orinats Yerkir parties.
None of the deputies from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and its junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), could be reached for comment on Thursday.
The pro-government legislators have kept an unusually low profile ever since the 30 or so gunmen stormed the police compound in Yerevan’s Erebuni district and took hostages there. For his part, President Serzh Sarkisian has only once publicly commented on the hostage crisis, demanding that the gunmen lay down their arms.
Incidentally, Sarkisian was expected to chair on Thursday evening a meeting of the HHK’s governing body. Some news reports said the standoff with the gunmen will be on the meeting’s agenda.